In the midst of a great divide between the people and the political elite

Two prime ministers for one country..Libya is about to sink further into the quagmire of chaos

  • Fathi Bashagha is very influential and popular with many in the West.

    Reuters

  • The Libyan House of Representatives voted in favor of appointing Fathi Bashagha as prime minister.

    AFP

  • Dabaiba refuses to hand over power.

    archival

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Questions arise about the direction Libya is heading to, after it finally found itself with two prime ministers after a controversial vote in the House of Representatives, which shuffled the cards of power, and seemed to open the door again to prolonging the political transition.

In what appears to be an institutional coup from the “Eastern Libya” movement against the “West of the country” movement, the House of Representatives in Tobruk appointed the former interior minister, the influential figure, Fathi Bashagha, to replace Abdel Hamid al-Dabaiba, as prime minister.

Dabaiba expressed on several occasions that he would not relinquish power, except to a government that came out of the election box.

In this institutional stalemate, the two political rivals see themselves as possessing the legitimacy of the position of prime minister.

The scene of two executive authorities is repeated in the oil-rich country, after it was led between 2014 and 2016 by two competing prime ministers, in the west and east, in the midst of a civil war at the time.

The former British ambassador to Libya, Peter Millett, said in an interview with "AFP" that "the motive of many MPs is to preserve their positions and privileges, rather than allowing a process that leads smoothly to elections."

However, the hope for appeasement was real.

At the end of 2020, shortly after Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar - the strongman from the east - failed to militarily invade the west of the country, after 15 months of fierce battles, a ceasefire agreement was signed, followed by the start of a peace process under the auspices of the United Nations.

Voice of the People

As part of this process, Dabaiba was appointed a year ago at the head of a new transitional government, whose mission is to unify institutions and lead the country to presidential and legislative elections, which were scheduled to take place on December 24.

Several obstacles emerged, beginning with the contested election law, controversial candidates, and tensions on the ground.

This quickly derailed the transitional process that was supposed to end the crisis that has persisted since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Then the elections were postponed indefinitely, but with a large void left.

The UN-sponsored operation did not anticipate the delay scenario.

As for the House of Representatives, which is based in the east, Abdul Hamid Dabaiba's term ended with the postponement of the elections, while Dabaiba asserts that his government's mission ends only with the formation of a new elected government.

“There is talk of a division between East and West, but the great division now is between the Libyan people, who want elections, and the political elite, who do not want that (...), the voice of the people is not heard,” stresses Peter Millett.

Disappointment is growing that the poll, which has been postponed indefinitely, has sparked a certain enthusiasm among many Libyans, with about 2.5 million registered voters out of a population of some seven million, after their ballot papers were withdrawn ahead of the December 24 vote.

right to vote

“It appears that the decision to deny Libyans the right to vote, and to postpone the elections even further, is exacerbating the risk of instability in Tripoli,” continues the former British ambassador to Libya.

Mellit insists that the country is now facing "a state of great uncertainty that does not serve the Libyan people," stressing that the United Nations must demand "transparent and legally acceptable procedures."

On Thursday, the United Nations, through its spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, indicated that it would continue to support the prime minister appointed by the Geneva conference a year ago, but retracted the next day and called on the Libyan parties to agree on a formula satisfactory to all parties and to avoid escalation and sliding into civil war again. .

Fathi Bashagha, a heavyweight in local politics, has the support of parliament, as well as Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the strongman in the east.

This was explained by the quick announcement of the leadership of Haftar's forces, a few hours after the selection of Bashagha, of his support as prime minister.

In Tripoli, both enjoy the support of armed groups that are still very influential in western and central parts of the country, but are often known to shift loyalties quickly.

"What could be dangerous is the violence in Tripoli, because Bashagha and Dabaiba have deep ties in western Libya," Amanda Kadlec, a former member of the Libyan expert group, told AFP.

"The militias will stand by whoever they see as having the power," she said.

And if he is not able to allocate them positions, pay their salaries, and supply them with arms, there will be no reason for them to support him.”

Hours before the House of Representatives vote, Dabaiba's convoy was shot at in Tripoli, without causing any casualties.

Observers wonder if this was a warning shot.

• The scene of two executive authorities is repeated in the oil-rich country, after it was led between 2014 and 2016 by two competing prime ministers, in the west and east, in the midst of a civil war at the time.

• Fathi Bashagha, a heavyweight in local politics, enjoys the support of Parliament, as well as Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

With regard to the parliament, which is based in the east, Abdul Hamid al-Dabaiba's term ended with the postponement of the elections, while al-Dabaiba asserts that his government's mission ends only with the formation of a new elected government.

The Supreme Council of State defends

Appointment of a new prime minister The head of Libya's High Council of State, a Tripoli-based second chamber of parliament, defended on Saturday the appointment of the eastern parliament as a new prime minister amid institutional chaos.

Khaled Al-Mashri pointed out that the text accompanying the vote of confidence last March for the government of Abdel Hamid al-Dabaiba “provided in Article Two that the term of the national unity government should be a maximum of December 24, 2021.”

He added, in a televised statement, that the appointment of the influential former Minister of the Interior, Fathi Bashagha, to succeed Dabaiba was based on that text, and based on "a consensus between the Supreme Council of State and the House of Representatives."

Al-Mashri accused the Dabaiba government of launching a "campaign directed against the House of Representatives and the Supreme Council of the State", taking a distance from the government in Tripoli, and bypassing the traditional divisions between the east and west of the country.

An AFP correspondent said on Saturday that armed groups gathered in Tripoli from Misurata, about 200 km east of it, to support Abdel Hamid al-Dabaiba, who refuses to cede power, which raises fears of a renewed armed conflict.

Like Abdel Hamid al-Dabaiba, Fathi Bashagha comes from the city of Misurata. The first met in December, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, in Benghazi, in the east of the country, in the name of national reconciliation.

Bashagha met Haftar, although he was at the forefront of efforts to counter his attack on Tripoli in 2019 when he was Minister of Interior in the former Government of National Accord.

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